Automating Dissent

by Carson Reynolds

Since the early days of reddit, users have complained about the skew of the front page. Whether it is Lolcats, Haskell, or Taser stories everyone has their hated front-page spam. The word spam here is used in the sense of overwhelming (possibly automated) submissions on a particular topic.

Recently, things have taken an interesting turn. The election race generated a flurry and finally blizzard of articles related to Ron Paul. Due to whatever reason, the reddit front page became completely overwhelmed with news articles concerning to Paul’s campaign.

At some point in the last few weeks an anonymous user became so frustrated as to compose an automated script which systematically downvotes stories found using a regular expression:

var regex = /(\W|^)(Ron|Paul)(\W|$)/i;

This was packaged as a greasemonkey script whose installers rapidly filtered all of the content relating to Ron Paul for all of reddit’s readers.

This in turn has led to cries of foul play by Ron Paul’s supporters and those who want to see reddit remain humanized. If anything it is an interesting escalation. Rouge Paul supporters in the past have been accused of gaming election polls and spamming themselves. Ironic that similar automations are being used to undo the work of Paul’s campaign.

But I think what we must now accept is that the process of dissenting, polling, and politicking has been automated. Not automated in the sense of a voting machine. Automated in the sense that political or editorial preferences have become programs; we are in the era of robots which do the dissenting for you.